Matthew's Classroom

I have been teaching English to kids in Japan for more than 20 years: public elementary schools in Tokyo for 11 years, and Hello Kids Komazawa for the last 9. For 3 years I have been teaching weekly lessons to students at Tsutsujigaoka Kindergarten. As I tend to stay at the same workplace for a long time, I've been able to see the long-term results of my work. Being able to really see children's English communication ability grow has been very rewarding. I mainly use APRICOT materials in my classroom. They best suit my goal of having students use as much English as possible while developing confidence and self-esteem. I enjoy teaching development, and I love discussing English education with other teachers!

    The workbooks in the Learning World Series offer more than follow-up study to textbook content. In class they can be used to generate communication experiences for students – especially if you have students swap them!
    Many sections of the workbooks require students to fill in segments with their own information. This creates a classic “interview” situation. Students need to ask and answer each other in order to complete the section.
    Below is short video footage of a recent class of 7 students studying with “Ready”. Each student bring both the textbook and the workbook to class each lesson.

    In this lesson I had the students sit in a wide area around the room. Each student had a classmate’s workbook, not their own. The page to complete was the top section of page 32.



    As you can hear from the footage, the students certainly produce English that could do with attention: the pronunciation of “onion”, the omittance of “s” in “grasshopper” etc. However, the simple task of completing a classmate’s workbook page can also produce a very large volume of communication. This too is clear from the footage.
    By all means, look for pages in each of the LEARNING WORLD workbooks with sections that require students to fill in their own information. Have students swap books and complete it for their classmates. I think you and they will enjoy this experience!

    27. ACTIVITY SHEETS: Kites

    At every chance I get to speak with teachers, I always strongly suggest that they put APRICOT’s LEARNING WORLD “ACTIVITY SHEETS” into their classroom. This material is a collection of class communication activities that require students to speak, listen and occasionally read. There are “ACTIVITY SHEETS“ for Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3.


    And while each collection match the grammar or vocabulary of units within these texts, they are well worth having even if students aren’t studying with LEARNING WORLD. Indeed, I use “ACTIVITY SHEETS” very often with junior high classes because they can often supplement their school grammar study quite nicely.

    Take the “KITES” from “ACTIVITY SHEETS Book 2”.

    “KITES” consists of pictures of kites in two sizes (big and small), four shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle) and three colors (blue, red and yellow). Its original design was to have students practice phrases such as “ls it big?” “Is it a square?” “Is it red?” etc. in a process of elimination to find one kite chosen by the teacher and later a student.
    However you can also use the material to familiarize students with English such as “One…. the other…” “One… the others….” “Both…” “Each…” “Every…” etc. This English appears usually in second grade junior high school texts.
    Try the following activity:
    WARM-UP: Show students all the kites. Have them note the variety in shapes, colors and sizes.
    Step1: Without showing the students, take two kites of a different color and place them face down on the whiteboard. Write: “There are two kites.”




    Step 2: “There are three kites.”


    Step 3: “There are three kites” again. In fact, they’re the same three kites. This time “Two blue kites” comes first.

    Step 4: “There are two kites.” This time, the word “kite” is dropped.


    Then three kites:

    Step 5: A new color will introduce the English “another”.

    After Step 5, the English “both” and “all” can also optionally be introduced:



    And that’s it!


    The materials from ACTIVITY SHEETS are excellent when they’re used exactly as they are intended. However with a little imagination they can also be used effectively to introduce a lot other language and concepts.
    Definitely get them for your classroom this year!!


    It’s late March. A new school year is just around the corner.
    As a teacher, I rarely give thought to my counterparts working away in the public junior high education system. We are “counterparts” in name only: “teachers”. But our work couldn’t be more different.
    They teach English as a system to memorize for the purpose of passing tests, I teach English for the purpose of communication.
    They teach English by and large in Japanese, I teach English in English.
    My approach takes students’ self-esteem into deep consideration, their approach does not.
    They give feedback to students’ efforts in the form of noughts and crosses on answer sheets, I give students the opportunity to self-correct problem areas, and all effort is good effort.
    I take care to have my students feel success with English by having them actually use it, my junior high counterparts don’t.
    And I’ll be frank; not only do I feel so very little in common with public junior English teachers, I often feel that much of their work goes against what I’m trying to achieve with my students.
    Dwelling on our un-relationship is not productive for me so I don’t. However my students do on occasion bring our differences to my unwanted attention – especially when they discuss their tests and test scores. Consider the following end-of-term English “speaking test” as described to me by one of my 1st grade students…
    In a one-on-one setting, a native-English teacher asked students a series of questions each of which were unrelated and to which there was no context. The questions were given in advance, and students were told previously they would be asked these very questions in the very same order. Students were required to memorize and produce the answers. Questions included “When is your birthday?” and “Which do you prefer, coffee or tea?”
    During the test, if the student answered anything less than the memorized answer, it was considered incorrect. For example if the students answered “Tea” instead of “I prefer tea”, it was marked as incorrect. Similarly, if students answered “November 15th” or even “My birthday is November 15th” instead of “My birthday is on November 15th”, it was marked as incorrect. A total score out of 10 was calculated.
    Now OK, I haven’t met or talked with the teachers who designed and conducted this test so I cannot know their thinking behind it. But I must say that I have some serious qualms about this test, particularly as it relates directly to students’ assessment of their speaking ability.
    You would imagine that a “speaking test” would have some element of communication to it, but there was none here as the questions and their order were pre-given. The Monbukagakusho guideline of English education stipulates that its purpose is communication.
    My student communicates in English well, but he spent valuable time before the test memorizing the petty detail to the answers his teacher wanted to hear. In the end, he lost a point because he forgot the word “on” in his birthday answer. (Incidentally, omitting “on” is NOT incorrect because “on” is only required when referring to something like a “meeting” or “appointment” which has a starting time and a finishing time: “My appointment is on November 15th.” Birthdays last the whole day so “on” is irrelevant. “My birthday is November 15th” is entirely acceptable.)
    English tests like the one described here send a totally unhelpful message to our students. Instead of being a valuable and important tool for learning about others and sharing one’s ideas, English becomes a process of accurate recitation, of form over content, and the slightest technical error costs you marks. With English education like this, it’s no wonder that Japanese communication ability in English is low compared to nearly all countries where English is a foreign language.
    It’s late March, and a new school year is just around the corner. So I call on my counterparts in the field of public education; instead of working against each other, let’s work more closely together. Let’s meet up with other English teachers in the community, join their teacher-development meetings and study groups. Let’s share perspectives on our students, their future and on the role of the English language within it. We are all teachers but currently we are doing disservice to our students and our profession. I believe that with cooperation we can work for our students more efficiently and effectively.
    Hopefully too I may be able to have a conversation with my students about their school English education without cringing!

    25. Pets

    Throughout the LEARNING WORLD Series, the topic of Pets returns frequently. APRICOT has a lot of supplementary material that can be used in support, notably “My Pet” from the Picture Book Series, and AJ Picture Dictionary.
    “My Pet” is a fun story about a boy who is thinking about getting a pet, but can’t decide which one as all can potentially be problematic! Adjectives are presented in the form of “too ~”, and an array of pets are eventually dismissed as “too fast”, “too slow”, “too heavy” “too scary” “too tall”.
    An excellent workbook is also available with a variety of activities catering to a variety of student levels.
    To be sure, not every suitable adjective for pets is represented in “My Pet”, but it provides a good start for students. Now open page 22 of AJ’s Picture Dictionary, and the amazing pets on display can trigger all sorts of adjectives!

    In addition to the adjectives presented in “My Pet”, “big”, “small” “cute”, “beautiful” “funny” and “dangerous” can be applied. We should take care when teaching adjectives though. After all, the function of adjectives is for people to express their own feelings about things. Teachers should avoid pushing personal preferences when teaching adjectives:
    “No, dogs aren’t ‘cute’; dogs are ‘scary’. For ‘cute’, you can only use pets like cats and hamsters.”
    The week after a class of LW Book1 students had discussed the pets in “My Pet” and “AJ Picture Dictionary”, I prepared strips of paper with “a cute pet”, “a big pet” “a funny pet”, “a dangerous pet” “a beautiful pet” etc. I scattered them on the floor and had the students choose one. With “AJ” open, students could copy the English for the pet that they felt matched their paper. Then they drew the picture in the available space.
    With this activity:
    ・students on the whole had no trouble remembering the adjectives of the previous lesson.
    ・students by and large were able to read their papers by applying basic phonics rules. Other students helped those students who struggled with the written English.
    ・at any one time, all the students worked on different papers. For simplicity, it’s tempting to give students all the same paper, and have them work together on them one at a time. The disadvantage of this is that weaker students rely too much on stronger students – to the point where even their choice of pet is not their own.
    Once students had completed as many papers as possible, papers were glued onto larger paper for a “collection” of pets. This was then followed by individual presentation.

    I like the students’ individual choices, their pictures, and the effort they put into copying the English from AJ onto 4-line paper. Their presentations were good too. By all means, take a look!





    24.Hello 2017!



    Thank you for reading my blog entries. This year again I hope you can find something useful here for your teaching!


    2016 was for me personally a year of opportunity for growth, and this year I’m looking forward to taking on new challenges, particularly in the area of our students’ writing skills. Up to now, my approach to the instruction of writing has been rather haphazard, and I’ve been feeling a need to think about it more deeply. Kawahara-sensei’s presentation at the APRICOT Mates Meetings late last year brought home the urgency of this. The future holds many challenges for our students, not least of which is the importance of being able to be expressive and creative in writing. I’ve been of course aware of this for some time, but priority had always gone to oral communication activities. This year I’m going to take the issue into the classroom seriously.

      at APRICOT Mate Meeting in TOKYO  IMG_2981[1]IMG_2914[1] Guest: Mr Dario Toda


    APRICOT will be releasing some exciting new titles this year: “Learning World BRIDGE”, “Learning World TOMORROW (Revised) and “Learning World FUTURE”. I’m sure all of us are looking forward to getting these into the hands of our students! I know APRICOT staff are committed to getting them out by Spring, but I sincerely hope they don’t neglect their need for sleep and good health in their enthusiasm to meet this deadline!!


    Less than a month has passed since the last Learning World Workshops, and already APRICOT is thinking about the next series for the Spring. It’s looking likely that again I’ll be presenting something. I’m totally OK with this – if you are all OK too. If you’ve never attended a LW Workshop, definitely come along! I’m sure you’ll find it valuable. If you’ve attended before, come along again! And bring a teacher-friend! It’s always good meeting teachers interested in self-development.


    Again, Happy New Year! I hope your winter break was relaxing, and like me you are ready and motivated for your students and the challenges they bring!

    Come on, 2017! Bring it on!!



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